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About "Little Jane"

First printed as "The Reformed" in 1842, "Little Jane" was the title Whitman gave to his short story when he reprinted it in the December 7, 1846, issue of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, while he was serving as the editor of that paper. "The Reformed" had first been published as a stand-alone piece on November 17, 1842, in the New York Sun; the following week it appeared as an embedded tale in the novel Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times, which was printed in an extra edition of The New World newspaper.1 Whitman printed the story with few additional changes (from the novel version) as "Little Jane" for the first time in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.2

In the story, a young Mike Marchion is drinking in the barroom with his friends when his brother comes to inform him that his younger sister, Little Jane, is very ill and near death. Mike eventually arrives home just in time for Little Jane to give him a copy of a religious story for children, which had been given to her by their mother. It is this generous gift—Little Jane's last act—that inspires Marchion's turn to temperance after his sister's death.3

Whitman's editorship of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle began in March 1846, and it ended in January 1848. The Eagle was, during that time, the organ of the Democratic Party for Kings County. Whitman wrote editorials and articles for the paper during this two-year period. He also removed the advertisements on the paper's front page and replaced them with items about literature. He published more than one hundred items on fiction alone during his editorship.4 At the same time, he showed renewed interest in the fiction he had written just a few years earlier. He revised and reprinted Franklin Evans and thirteen of his own short fiction pieces—including "Little Jane"—in the paper. As editor of the Eagle, Whitman also revised and reprinted "Wild Frank's Return" (May 8, 1846), "The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier" (June 1–6 and 8–9, 1846; formerly "Arrow-Tip"), "A Legend of Life and Love" (June 11, 1846), "Dumb Kate—An early death" (July 13, 1846), "The Love of Eris.—A Spirit Record" (August 18, 1846; formerly "Eris; A Spirit Record"), "One Wicked Impulse! (A tale of a Murderer escaped.)" (September 7–9, 1846; formerly "Revenge and Requital; A Tale of a Murderer Escaped"), "Fortunes of a Country-Boy" (November 16–30, 1846; a significantly revised version of Franklin Evans), three of the five parts of "Some Fact-Romances" (the second Fact-Romance as "The Old Black Widow" on November 12, 1846, the first Fact-Romance as "A Fact-Romance of Long Island" on December 16, 1846, and the fifth Fact-Romance as "An Incident on Long Island Forty Years Ago" on December 24, 1846), "The Child and the Profligate" (January 27–29, 1847; previously printed with the same title in the Columbian Magazine), "Death in the school room" (December 24, 1847; formerly "Death in the School-Room. A Fact"), and "The Boy-Lover" (January 4–5, 1848; previously printed with the same title in The American Review). Two of Whitman's stories were reprinted in the Eagle before he became the paper's editor in March 1846. Whitman's "The Death of Wind Foot" was reprinted as a work of serial fiction (August 29–30, 1845) about two months after the story appeared in The American Review in June 1845. "Shirval—A Tale of Jerusalem" was reprinted on January 22, 1846, ten months after it was first published in The Aristidean in March 1845.5

When Whitman revised "The Reformed" for publication in The Eagle, he removed the narrative frame that presented the tale as Mike Marchion's personal experience.6 The new title, "Little Jane," immediately draws the reader's attention to Mr. Marchion's sister, her illness, and her last wish: to see her older brother reformed. In fact, the title highlights the sentimentality and the moral lesson that readers should take from the death of the child, a common event and recognized cause for reform in temperance fiction.7 Whitman wrote several other short stories with temperance themes, including "Wild Frank's Return," "The Child's Champion," "The Love of the Four Students," "Reuben's Last Wish" and "Dumb Kate.—An Early Death."

Perhaps noting the title's focus on the character of Little Jane and the tale's potential for moral impact, The Universalist Union (New York, NY) reprinted it on December 19, 1846, in the "Youth's Department" section of the journal with the following note for a preface: "The following touching little sketch is from the pen of Walter Whitman, the present accomplished editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, though it had met the public eye before, through other channels. But such articles never grow old. They speak to the heart at all times and seasons. And we never suffer injury by familiarity with them. Let our little folks read it attentively and draw a lesson of kindness therefrom."8 "Little Jane," therefore, is one of at least two tales (the other is "The Tomb-Blossoms") that were reprinted explicitly for youth, presumably because of the lessons of temperance and "kindness" that they can learn from them.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle version of the story of "Little Jane" also appeared in the weekly Rhineback Gazette and Dutchess Family Visitor (Rhineback, NY) in 1847. Whitman revised the tale before reprinting it again in the "Pieces in Early Youth" section of Specimen Days and Collect (1882), a volume in which he reprinted a selection of his short stories.9 Several revisions to the langauge of the Eagle version of "Little Jane" for publication in Collect are recorded in our footnotes to the Eagle version of "Little Jane." For a reprint of the version of the story that was published earlier as part of Franklin Evans and a complete list of revisions to the language of that version made or authorized by Whitman for publication in both the Eagle (1846) and Collect (1882), see Thomas Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction.10

"Little Jane"

Walter Whitman Little Jane The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Kings County Democrat December 7, 1846 [1] per.00343


1. For a detailed publication history of "The Reformed," see "About 'The Reformed.'" [back]

2. Several revisions to the language of the earliest known printing of the Sun version of the story (1842) for publication in the Eagle (1846) are recorded in our footnotes to "The Reformed." For a reprint of the version of the story that was published in Franklin Evans and a complete list of revisions to the language of that version made or authorized by Whitman for publication in the Eagle, see Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 196–200. Hereafter, EPF. [back]

3. The major plot events of Whitman's "The Reformed" were not altered for the later printing as "Little Jane." For a detailed summary of the plot of the story, see Patrick McGuire, "Little Jane (1842)," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998), 399. [back]

4. Dennis Renner, "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 79–80. [back]

5. For additional information on The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reprints, as well as other reprints of Whitman's short fiction, see Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography and Brasher, EPF, 335–339. [back]

6. See Whitman's "Little Jane." [back]

7. Karen Sánchez-Eppler, "Temperance in the Bed of a Child," in Dependent States: The Child's Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 71. [back]

8. See Walter Whitman, "Little Jane," The Universalist Union 12 (December 12, 1846): 95. For full citations and further information about reprints of "Little Jane" and the original version titled "The Reformed," see Whitman's Fiction: A Bibliography. See also Stephanie M. Blalock, "Bibliography of Walt Whitman's Short Fiction in Periodicals," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 30 (2013): 223–226. [back]

9. See Walt Whitman, "Little Jane," in Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882), 369–370. "Pieces in Early Youth" was also reprinted in Whitman's Complete Prose Works (1892): see "Little Jane." [back]

10. See Brasher, EPF, 196–200. [back]

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